During Goblet of Fire, Voldemort lured Harry away from Hogwarts and into a Muggle cemetery. This was done during the Triwizard tournament to make Harry’s death look like an accident.

Harry was supposed to have a Trace on him, so why couldn’t the Ministry tell an underage wizard was performing magic (Expelliarmus) in a Muggle cemetery? Or (as the Trace seems to pick up ANY magic used near a young wizard/witch) magic used by the Death Eaters?

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    You've asked a legitimate question.They could have tracked the magic is performed in muggle area. Not only underage wizard but whole lot of Grown Wizards could have been caught. Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 8:18
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    I don't have any evidence, but perhaps the Trace only works outside of a school term, since students aren't allowed to leave Hogwarts or Hogsmeade during term.
    – George T
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 8:21
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    @gruntswilldie True, but since they do not believe it even could be Voldemort ALL they would know is Dark Magic is used around an underage wizard who happens to be Harry Potter!! They should rush in FAST! Maybe the area can be shielded, so that no trace detection spell works?? But then there is the problem that WORMY would have had to do the blocking spell before the portkey arrived, since killing Ced should have already alerted the authorities.
    – BMWurm
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 8:36
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    @BMWurm That shielding idea does seem to be the most reasonable.
    – Suman Roy
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 8:45
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    @BMWurm If shielding is possible the plan at the start of HP7 would've been a waste of time :T
    – user31512
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 9:15

8 Answers 8


I don’t think this is answered in canon, but I can come up with two theories:

  1. The Trace is only active during school holidays.

    During term-time, students are always in Hogwarts (where magic is freely permitted) or Hogsmeade (a community that contains no Muggles), so there’s very little need for the Trace. There are very few, if any, instances of students leaving the school grounds and surrounding area during term-time.

    If not, then the Ministry are getting a lot of spurious data from students. Either Hogwarts and Hogsmeade are specially enchanted to neutralise the Trace, or the Ministry just ignores anything they receive during term-time. However, I tend to reject the latter possibility, because if that were the case, then they’d be able to use information obtained with the Trace to know that dark magic was performed in the courtyard, and that Voldemort might have returned.

  2. The graveyard was shielded against the Trace, or detection spells in general.

    It’s plausible that you can enchant magical-only areas to be impervious to the Trace. Plenty of locations would merit this treatment – Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley. If this magic exists, then it’s possible that Voldemort/Wormtail applied similar enchantments to the graveyard, thus preventing the Ministry from tracing them before Harry was dead.

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    option 3. bureaucracy still considered the area as a wizard inhabited zone from 50 years ago Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 14:20
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    Option 4: That night the "Trace Alert Desk" in the ministry was manned by Death Eaters. Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 7:50
  • Option 2 seems more plausible - since the villagers were supposedly unable to hear any of the sounds that wormtail, the deatheaters or the fight at the graveyard would definitely have produced. Even Harry half hopes that someone would hear the noise and that the police might come.
    – mustard
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 21:12
  • From the quote found by calccrypto (see his answer) we can deduce that the trace is always active, otherwise Dumbledore would have simply said that the Trace was inactive. So option 1 is moot.
    – straycat
    Commented Dec 19, 2017 at 21:34
  • @straycat That doesn't mean there aren't differences. It might be active as such but not monitored, for example. But besides that Voldemort's cave has nothing to do with the Trace... that was the protections e.g. only one person could fit in the boat.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 12, 2018 at 23:57

In The Half-Blood Prince Chapter 26, Dumbledore says:

"I do not think you will count, Harry: You are underage and un-qualified. Voldemort would never have expected a sixteen-year-old to reach this place: I think it unlikely that your powers will register compared to mine."

Perhaps this works as a general rule, so in the graveyard, Voldemort + his Death Eaters' power levels masked Harry's, preventing the Ministry from detecting the Trace. On the other hand, the Trace was inconsistently mentioned...

alexwlchan's second theory mentioned on the HP wiki seems also plausible, since Voldemort wanted to stay hidden at the time and was not be the type of person to miss something involving human magic.

  • Not a bad supposition.
    – Möoz
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 22:13
  • These are two entirely different contexts.
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 17:20

There are quite a few times when spells are cast around Harry in a Muggle area, but the Ministry doesn't seem to know or care. For example:

  • The spells Mr. Weasley casts while in the Dursleys in Goblet of Fire
  • The constant apparation around 4 Privet Drive when Harry is being watched in Order of the Phoenix
  • The disillusionment and cleaning spells cast by Moody and Tonks not long afterwards
  • The side-along apparation with Dumbledore, and the spells cast in the Muggle house Professor Slughorn was hiding in in Half-Blood Prince

The common thread is that the Ministry seems to be aware of any adult wizards nearby when the Trace is activated. Given how many wizards have pre-school age children, the Trace should be activated thousands of times a day. I can't imagine they have full-time staff reviewing every single instance, and they likely have some automated system to weed those instances out. We can assume that when the infiltrators in the Ministry wanted to get Harry at the beginning of Deathly Hallows, they changed the process in some way so they'd be informed.

(As an out-of-universe explanation, when we learn of the Trace in Deathly Hallows, it always struck me as a convenient plot excuse to have a giant battle in the sky. “If we Apparate, the Ministry will know!”… And? By then, Harry will be safe in the Burrow. The fact that Harry somehow went through an entire underage magic trial without ever being told about the Trace, and the fact that it only has implications for the last book while contradicting much of the earlier books, it's just always seemed contrived to me.)

  • It was more that they would know where they Apparated too; at least that's how I always interpreted it. But yes it seems inconsistent and it seems to know when there are adults around but then that doesn't mean the Trace wasn't activated then; imagine Morfin Gaunt after Riddle murdered the Riddles etc.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 0:15

From a re-read of the chapters; there is no evidence that the Ministry was not alerted by the Trace.

Who's There to Care?

Remember that almost everyone who is anyone is at the Triwizard Tournament. This includes:

  • Prime Minister Fudge,
  • Albus Dumbledore,
  • Dignitaries from abroad,
  • Misc. members of the Ministry (Bagman, Kingsley? etc.)

Time is of the Essence

Harry was gone, lets say about 30-45 minutes in total1. This includes,

  • Cedric's death
  • Flesh, Blood and Bone Ceremony
  • DEs appearing
  • Voldemort's convenient recount of his life(?) for the past 12 years
  • Harry and Voldemort's duel
  • Priori Incantatum

It is safe to assume that Cedric's body was still warm when Harry got back. This doesn't leave much time for the Ministry to do much about it.

By the time Harry had escaped, it would not have taken long for the DEs and Voldemort to 'leg-it'.

The Trace is not 'All-knowing'

From what we've seen and know about the Trace is that it knows two things for sure:

1. Magic has been used by, or around, an underage wizard.
2. The (approximate) location of the incident.

That's it. It doesn't know for sure sure who the underage wizard was2, or the nature of the magic (very powerful dark magic or a simple Lumos).

So in effect, even if the Ministry was alerted, what they know for sure is that somewhere near Little Hangleton Cemetery some magic was used by, or near, an underage wizard.

The spectators of the Triwizard tournament already know that something is wrong, and that Harry and Cedric appear to be missing, and the extra information from the Ministry would have been inconsequential at that point...

To Conclude

There is no way to know whether or not the Ministry was alerted, and even if they were, it would not have brought much help at that time3.

1. Complete guesstimate from me!
2. In the case of Harry VS Birthday cake and Harry VS Dementors; they know that the magic was used in Harry's home town, so it's not difficult to figure out who it was.
3. Maybe afterwards to corroborate Harry's story.
4. Some light reading:
- How strict is the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery?
- I don't quite understand the Trace with regards to underage Wizards performing magic

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    The trace isn't all knowing but it certainly knows the "nature" of the spell cast. The Ministry immediately knew that a hover charm was cast in CoS and that a Patronus charm was performed in OotP. It could even tell that the Patronus was performed "in the presence of a muggle." (Dudley). Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 21:16

A theory: The Trace apparently detects Muggles around the spellcaster. It is possible that the whole trace was discarded because there were no Muggles around.

Yet another theory: Voldemort had his people in various parts of the Ministry, even so shortly after his return. Maybe the tracing information fell into hands of such a Voldemort's minion and was discarded.

Another theory (this time about the internals of the Trace): I think that it counts only with some sort of "registered" spellcasters. For example, Harry was not charged with tidying, making light etc. at the beginning of the Order of the Phoenix, because all of those spells were associated with someone else by the system. Conversely, Dobby probably does not fall into the "registered spellcasters" category, so his Wingardium Leviosa in the Chamber of Secrets was attributed to the nearest registered wizard, which was Harry.

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    I can't agree with the 2nd theory since all of the DEs which appeared at the cemetery (his most loyal ones) were osmewhat surprised to see him. +1 for the rest though!
    – Möoz
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 22:17
  • I like your 3rd theory, it fits with the idea of house elves being forgotten and considered unimportant.
    – Mynamite
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 22:33

I think the fact it happened during the Triwizard Tournament may have had something to do with it.

During this tournament he would be expected to cast spells and have spells cast at him, possibly even dark spells. The location would be off but the spells and action would be normal, perhaps they only investigate the location and further information from the trace if it is unexpected or illegal.

There is also the political issues to think of, Harry is competing with students from other countries. Having England use trace magic on their student while he is competing with students from other countries could be seen as a breaking of international treaty.


I have two theories:

  • The ministry obviously wants to deny He Who Must Not Be Named was once again at power and back so possibly they knew that magic was being used at the graveyard and once again, covered it up.
  • They thought it was part of the task. The people who monitor the trace are probably not aware what the task was, but they would know Harry is competing due to the media (Daily Prophet, etc) so they ignored it and let it go.
  • The first one: can't be because it wasn't even claimed that he was back at that point. They had no reason to suspect that it had anything to do with Voldemort - even those who wouldn't have doubted it for a second.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 0:19

The cemetery was not in a muggle area. The Gaunts' house was nearby, and magic must have been performed there regularly, at least while the Gaunts were alive. We're not told if any other magical families lived nearby. When Tom Riddle went to find his family and ended up killing his father, he was still at Hogwarts (HBPrince - when Tom is talking to Slughorn in his office he is already wearing the Gaunts ring). But his magic was presumably not detected, unless he was already so talented that he could evade the trace.

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    The cemetery was in Little Hangleton, the village where Tom Riddle Sr. lived and was murdered. Muggles are buried in the graveyard, so I’d say it ~was in a Muggle area.
    – alexwlchan
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 22:35
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    True, but the Gaunt house was nearby because that's how Merope met TR Snr. In Godrics Hollow wizards and muggles appear to be living side by side. Harry's parents are buried in a (presumably) Muggle churchyard, and the memorial to them is only visible to non-muggles. Somewhere it's mentioned that Fred and George go to show off 'tricks' to Muggle girls in the village. So I suppose we need to know how far a wizarding influence extends in an area.
    – Mynamite
    Commented Aug 11, 2014 at 22:48
  • Nonetheless the graveyard IS a Muggle graveyard... And it was just by the house - a Muggle house. So it actually was a Muggle area.
    – Pryftan
    Commented Aug 13, 2018 at 0:20

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